Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 7 Preview

More mountains as the Dauphiné swaps the unfamiliar Jura mountains for old haunts among the Alps. There’s novelty with the climb of the Col de Sarenne used to approach Alpe d’Huez instead of the famous 21 hairpins.

Stage 6 Wrap: the Mont du Chat dominated the stage profile and duly dominated the racing. After an early break went BMC led for much of the stage before Ag2r La Mondiale took over despite their rider up the road Oliver Naesen in the breakaway. BMC took over again on the approach to the climb and on the early slopes Alejandro Valverde was the first to attack. This was courageous but also suggested he’d not ridden up this climb before and sure enough the slope got even steeper and he went into default on his oxygen debt. The same for others like Romain Bardet who tried several moves only to go into the red but Bardet probably found reassurance from being in the mix after that time trial. Fabio Aru was the fastest to the top, soloing away from team mate Jacob Fuglsang just as Richie Porte and Chris Froome were closing in. Froome having made a very linear, steady ascent set about leading down the descent and Aru was brought back down the sketchy road. It’ll be partially resurfaced for the Tour de France but that won’t change the vertiginous gradients nor the twisty course.

Jacob Fuglsang tried a late attack but Chris Froome brought him back and we got a sprint between four riders not used to contesting this kind of finish. Froome and Porte tangled as Porte tried to pass close to the barriers and the Australian made it through to surge to the line but Fuglsang won in a photo finish, his first ever high level win. All four in the breakaway had a successful day: Richie Porte took over the yellow jersey, Chris Froome climbed with the best and Fabio Aru was the fastest up the mountain before seeing his team mate win.

In a top-20 spread over three minutes thanks to one climb, Alejandro Valverde limited his losses to Porte and Froome but still paid the price for his precocious attacks. Alberto Contador lost over a minute and Simon Yates gave up two minutes.

Fuglsang’s win ended Astana’s streak as the World Tour team with the longest drought in the World Tour, a title now passed to Ag2r La Mondiale who haven’t won since Pierre Latour took a stage of the Vuelta. But could they have won yesterday? Within the top-10 was Oliver Naesen who was first in the breakaway over the Mont du Chat. With hindsight did Ag2r La Mondiale’s pace-setting earlier in the stage prevent him from winning the stage? Hindsight because surely among the group of riders approaching the Mont du Chat nobody, even his team, would have imagined the beefy Flandrien would get over the top ahead of Serge Pauwels, Romain Combaud or Alberto Bettiol?

The Route: 168km. After a start in Aoste – the French town and not the Italian city – the race heads south-east to cross the Chartreuse mountains with the Col du Cucheron and Col de Porte as proper Alpine climbs with gradients of 6-7% and ideal terrain for an early breakaway to take time. They need to because after the fast descent of the Col de Porte there’s 60km to cover, including the long drag up the Romanche valley where there’s often a pesky headwind and the road rises more than that the profile implies.

The Finish: The Côte de Garçin is really the start of the giant Col du Lautaret and so the road begins climbing at 6-7% for several kilometres before the turn off for the Col de Sarenne. Then the road gets steep and narrower. The profile shows a slight downhill section, it’s a proper dip down but means a steep climb back up toward the village of Clavans where there’s a brief flat section before some hard climbing with a slope that gets steeper the higher they go.

One over the Sarenne there’s a brief descent chased by a false flat section with big visibility, if a rider is away then chasers behind can keep them in their sights. Then they drop into Alpe d’Huez and take the road a few kilometres down the mountain before a right turn to pick up the famous road back to Alpe d’Huez but with only three of the 21 hairpin bends to tackle and then the ride through town before the classic finish with the tight left-hand bend onto the Avenue Rif Nel.

The Contenders: Fabio Aru is climbing well and the finish suits him whether he wants to take off on the Sarenne or bid his time until Alpe d’Huez? Meanwhile now that Jacob Fuglsang has a win he could do it again, especially if he can play off Aru. Alejandro Valverde is a safe pick again because he’s good for the sprint here and can revert to his usual modus operandi of lurking in the wheels before sprinting for the stage win. If not Richie Porte proved he is climbing with the best.

Fabio Aru, Alejandro Valverde
Porte, Fuglsang, Dan Martin, Bardet

Weather: warm and sunny for most of the way with 30°C in the plains and valleys. A

TV: the timing changes for the weekend is forecast for 2.50pm CET. Coverage begins at 1.30pm CET and this means the approach to the Col de Sarenne is covered. As ever it should be on the same channel you watch the Tour de France and/or Eurosport.

33 thoughts on “Critérium du Dauphiné Stage 7 Preview”

  1. I am looking forward to this stage in particular as two weeks ago I was lucky enough to be riding the Chartreuse Trilogy myself, partly inspired by INRNG’s Roads to Ride article. Stunning countryside and a long descent into Grenoble after the aptly named (for this edition of the Dauphine) Col de Porte.

    • Pity we won’t see the Chartreuse on TV but great that you enjoyed riding there. Should do a Roads to Ride piece on the Sarenne, today’s climb is great and scenic too and a useful alternative to Alpe d’Huez which is half the point of the race route today, to show visiting cyclists that they can take other roads to the Alpe.

  2. Great climb. Great descent.

    And fantastic to get a win for Fuglsang! The Danish commentators (CA Sørensen & Brian Nygaard) were ready to talk about another fine result for Fuglsang, and then suddenly exploded in happiness 🙂 Great stage.

  3. Climbed the Sarenne and then onto l’Alpe in 2015 when the Barrage du Chambon had rendered the D1091 upto the Lautaret impassable (and disrupted La Marmotte’s route significantly over the Croix de Fer).

    A truly spectacular climb into what feels like the wilderness when compared to L’Alpe and Huez village with some stunning scenery and an option to take the balcony road half way up. A ‘must’ for any enthusiastic grimpeur with a head for heights.

    Expect some action on the Sarenne’s slopes – the ‘moyenne de la pente’ indicators belie the difficulty of some sections.

  4. The reports of Chris Froome’s demise are greatly exaggerated it seems.

    A fascinating climb and descent. Alejandro Valverde seemed to confirm some of the doubts about long climbs, he went off like a rocket as though climbing the Mur de Huy but inevitably faded though did seem to recalibrate and rode sensibly enough to the finish. Alberto Contador could not keep up with the leaders, is he simply pacing himself or is this indicative of not being able to hang with the top riders anymore? Simon Yates was a bit disappointing, maybe he can come back over the next couple of days. Never been convinced Dan Martin is a genuine GC contender, top 10 maybe, this ride did nothing to change that. Romian Bardet, perhaps he will ride himself into form in a months time but not convinced. If Fabio Aru can keep riding the same way over the next two days he must be viewed as a genuine contender for the TdF maybe Jakob Fuglsang too though how does the team dynamic play out?

    Richie Porte looked to be the strongest climber and rode a great TT. However two things struck me. For the last two kilometres it was as if he was still Chris Froome’s lieutenant, him leading up the climb with CF glued to his wheel waiting to pounce. He also seemed to let himself be pushed out of the way on the descent, yes he got himself back at the end and beat CF to the line but it seemed odd to me. I do wonder if he really has convinced himself he can beat his good friend.

    For me this was a typical Chris Froome display, at times he seemed to be struggling but he steadily closed back to the leaders, then would accelerate away, only RP able to stay with him. For such a big rider he is a first rate descender, it was a pretty risky move to get past Richie Porte but once past he did mange to open up a gap but the road flattened out pretty soon and the others caught up. He looks to be in good nick for the Tour and that intense determination to win is very much apparent. However I suspect that Richie Porte will win this one, the 30 second or so gap too big to bring back today and tomorrow.

    Another fascinating days racing in prospect, I suspect Sky / BMC / Astana will try to drop Alejandro Valverde on the Sarenne, they wont want him hanging on to ride away at the end. Fabio Aru does seem a good pick, he is fresh and wants to show he can win.

    • I briefly thought it odd that Porte was leading Froome up the Chat but in fairness, the leader’s jersey is typically expected to chase down moves from serious contenders – which Aru is – so Froome’s refusal to take a turn on the front made sense. On the descent, I was unsure whether Porte’s relative caution was a reflection of his desire to be injury free for the Tour, or an underlying lack of confidence in descending.

        • It was interesting to listen to Matt Keenan and Robbie McEwen as Froome, Fuglsang and Porte took the descent. Noting that he wasn’t as good a descender they said that sitting about 20m off the wheel in front was the ideal position for Porte as he had more time to see what the others in front were doing and often take better lines through the sharper corners. They noted multiple times that Porte actually took several metres back on the sharp corners due to being able to brake later and take better lines that helped keep him in contact and probably descend a lot faster than if he was on his own or trying to hold a wheel in front. Great for his confidence for the Tour.

        • Sorry it was David McKenzie not Robbie McEwen. In addition they definitely backed Inner Ring’s position that his descending in the wet is not that great.

          • While Porte might not be the best descender on his own terms he managed that situation perfectly. And we should not forget that he is some kg lighter than Froome and Fuglsang, so he’s at a disadvantage compared to the them on such a steep descent. If it were not for Fuglsang and Aru I’m not sure though that Richie would have reached the finish with Froome.

      • Your theory has some holes
        “serious contender” Aru was over a minute down at this point and if he was a thread, then to Froome. Which had his friend Richie doing the work of bridging the gap. That what friends are for. That and dodging into barriers later. Porte has a tactical weakness as long as he don’t cut the chains to his master.

        • I was just wondering how long is it going to be before we stop making comments about this or will people comment every time Richie is in front of Froome? Given how much they have trained together it is not at all strange that Richie and Froome ride at a similar pace when on a long uphill. While not in Porte’s head I would be pretty sure that he was riding his own pace, it just happened to suit Froome. Why would Porte want to ride at someone else’s pace? Probably shows that he’s not worried about Froome as he felt strong enough not to care about him being on his wheel.
          From what I saw Porte seemed to be climbing comfortably and Froome seemed on his limit, if he wasn’t on the limit then he would have gone over the top of Porte before the top of the climb to maximise his chance of gapping Porte on the descent which was his obvious intention. Interesting to note that if Froome is still the master why did Porte make him catch Fuglsang on the run into the finish?

          • Right! Porte was certainly not leading out Froome on that climb. He simply didn’t care who was in his wheel. And on a >10% grade there is no more noteworthy slipstream even with 6 W/kg. In fact on such a steep climb the guy in front typically has an advantage albeit only mentally as he sets the pace and makes those hurt who want to follow him.
            I also can’t see any sign of missing self-confidence in Porte or that he still somewhat depends on Froome. Quite the contrary. They’re probably still friends but Richie seems to enjoy that he can now compete against him and prove that he’s no lesser rider than Froome.

        • BMC have done a lot of work on his mind to try and resolve this. This morning’s L’Equipe says they were not even chatting on the start line in Aoste yesterday, a sign they are rivals as well now.

  5. It was good to see Aru back to his gurning best.
    He can’t have been that far away from being Giro-ready?

    Bardet must have been disappointed with yesterday, he must have done that climb regularly but it looked like it caught him out. Strange.

    I can’t believe that the TdF will have two big climbs prior to Mont du Chat. Given its difficulty, surely the riders will have to take it much easier?
    A case of more is too much, as opposed to yesterday’s shorter less is more?

  6. On Contador’s form:

    I’m a fan(atic) of Contador. And it’s hard to try to justify that he is a TDF contender when he finishes behind most other rivals on the first big climb of the Dauphine.

    The only solace I take is that he’s never been great at the Dauphine and in 2009 prior to delivering his best TDF performance to date, Valverde beat him by 2mins going up to Ventoux with Evans also outclimbing him.

  7. Dauphiné is a prep race for ill and good.

    It’s fine to have some chatting points, if you have any free time to spend (sadly, I haven’t as much, right now and I’m afraid this post will be an exception), but the Dauphiné’s technical meaning is close to none.
    After Hinault – who himself wasn’t exactly a regular of the double – for 30 years it was way better *not* to win this race if you wanted to perform well at the TdF. The only *two* exception in 30 editions are Indurain 1995 (we all know how his TdF worked in 1996…) and Armstrong 2002 (in 2003 he managed to win the Tour anyway, indeed, but he had by far his worst performance in seven victories).

    Also notice that even before Hinault and Thévenet, who seemed to like the double a bit more – 2 out of 5 Tours and 1 out of 2 Tours respectively – the race was brutally associated with TdF failure more often than not: in the previous 30 years of the race, since it was created in 1947, it preceeded a Tour victory only *four * times. Bobet, who won also the Dauphiné with 1 out of 3 TdF, Anquetil (1 of 5), Merckx (1 of 5) and Ocaña, who won it along with its only Tour… but he won 3 Dauphinés to get a lucky TdF only once (the reverse situation than Marckx, in a sense).

    Then came Team Sky.
    But what works for them isn’t bound to work for anyone else, especially if you aren’t following their peculiar prep (others might copy them, and it may make sense for them to follow Sky’s step in this context, too: Porte’s BMC, Aru’s Astana…).
    I don’t think that Contador will easily have a huge TdF (he’s getting old, obviously!) but it’s not like the Dauphiné is the actual reason to be worried. Quite the other way around. His prep is as different from Sky’s as it could get and if he was lured to fight for this race, he’d lose much more than he’d gain. Earlier races this year were way more worrying for fans.

    It makes quite much sense if you think that the Tour’s first half (not just “week”) used to be essentially flat more often than not. Being in early top form was going to cost you hard times in the decisive 3rd week without giving you the opportunity to benefit much from it in the first part of the race.
    Nowadays, if your strategy is too hit very hard very soon, you’re soon offered a chance by the course.
    And this is just one factor among several others.
    Of course, then you need to be able to defend yourself or someway keep your form good through the whole six weeks between Dauphiné and the Tour’s finale. Which would be like surfing on top form from Tirreno to Liège both included: quite complicated, even at Team Sky, but, albeit rarely, it can be done (Valverde…).

    Once, we’d have said that Porte was probably going to have a bad TdF. Now that Sky showed the way, we really can’t say.
    In five years, they made it happen more than it used to happen in three decades (and even in the “favourable” Hinault-Thévenet phase, the double happened just 3 times in 10 years!).

    The Dauphiné is good for debate, or cheap talk, because we’re left way more in the dark than ever. Which fosters curiosity and hype. Is that guy low on form on purpose? Is that other in decent form but keeping his powders dry? Will the Sky trick work for Aru or Porte?
    What’s sure is that a mediocre performance can’t be predictive of anything, just as a good one can’t, either.
    Which is why this race hasn’t ever had much of an autonomous value in itself – and will start to only if the Sky trend gets confirmed for another dozen years at least.
    It may happen, since more and more rider try to copy Sky’s ways (and understandably so): Bardet abandoned most Classics and dropped his Spring level (e.g. Catalunya), no need to speak about Aru, Nibali himself went down that road in 2014 and 2015, same for Porte, racing less and less, etc.
    Quite normal, Armstrong set the calendar for most of his rivals and shifted the relative importance of races.

    However, no irony is implied when I say that it’s a good show to warm up the fans’ engines before July. Being even less meaningful than before makes it way more interesting, in a sense. I’ll try to watch something this weekend.

    • I was just wondering if it was Sky that showed the first signs of that kind of build up to the Tour. I thought that BMC in 2011 showed the way with Evans winning Tirreno–Adriatico and then Tour de Romandie before being second in the Dauphine behind a Wiggins who took 1m 9s on Evans in the time trial in Grenoble.

      • Quite the contrary, I’d say. It’s not only about the final result, it’s also about how the rider really performed.

        In 2011 Dauphiné Evans was slightly on the back foot in the ITT, when compared to his usual level (he was 6th, more on less on Brajkovic and Riblon’s level), and then suffered when climbing became really serious, on the Collet d’Allevard, where not only did he lose more than one minute to the climbers, but he also was left some 15″ back by… Wiggins himself (11 km at 8.4%!). He defended himself better on easier climbs like La Toussuire or Les Gets, where 10-15 men arrived practically together – but he couldn’t distance Wiggins, either, while Purito, Sorensen, Kern, Van den Broeck etc. all had an edge sooner or later.
        The only occasion in which Evans had appeared a little more convincing was the first stage’s last km rush, where he could match Vino, Roche and Boasson Hagen and nearly hold Purito’s wheel. But it’s really too little for a rider like Evans, especially if you think about his performance the following month.

        Yet, I think that you’re right when you say that Evans for some reason had tried to make both race compatibles.

        Let’s crosscheck the Tour and Dauphiné top 5 in the last 10 years.

        It’s quite evident that a typical strategy for very top riders like Contador or Evans could be entering the Dauphiné in decent but still lacking form, being beat by lesser figures who hit their top beforehand (Moreau, Brajkovic, the 2011 Wiggins…). The general rule is that most riders who perform well in the Dauphiné simply do disappear come the Tour.
        However, Evans himself struggled to make sense of this approach, probably losing a couple of TdFs (!!!) because of a failure in fine tuning his form. Or managing his prep, or whatever you want to call it.
        The difference when Sky riders are concerned is pretty much evident.
        The only other rider who really tended to perform consistently through Dauphiné and Tour, without being especially disappointing in terms of his own top form (as it happened to Evans, instead) was probably Van den Broeck in 2010 and 2012.

        Riders who made the two top 5:
        – 3 in 2016 (Froome, Porte, D. Martin);
        – 1 in 2015: Froome (note: Van Garderen and Rui Costa, who placed behind him, underperformed spectacularly at the Tour);
        – 0 in 2014 (note: Van den Broeck and Talansky podiumed Dauphiné and failed at the Tour);
        – 1 in 2013 (Froome);
        – 3 in 2012 (Wiggins, Froome; Van der Broeck was 5th and then 4th; Rogers and Evans podiumed at Dauphiné and then underperformed at the Tour);
        – 1 in 2011 (Evans, who had been 2nd but, as seen above, quite much underperforming at the Dauphiné);
        – 2 in 2010 (Contador who had underperfomed at the Dauphiné, being beat by Brajkovic; besides, Van den Broeck);
        – 1 in 2009 (Contador, who had been 3rd underperforming at the Dauphiné)
        – 1 in 2008 (Evans, not convincing in either races despite coming 2nd in both)
        – 1 in 2007 (Evans, underperforming in Dauphiné, beat by Moreau, slightly under par at the Tour against a young Contador and The Chicken).

        It looks like that, Sky apart, not only it’s better not to win the Dauphiné if you want to win the Tour, it’s also important not to perform especially well (relatively to your level as a rider) in the former if you want to shine in the latter.

          • I will make the comparison when people will start to take conclusions about the TdF from the TdS results 😉

            The TdS still is more of a race on its own, not a prep race, even if its startlist have been obviously hindered, and very much so, by its position in the calendar. However, many people are there to compete, not to train, even if most big names don’t go there anymore… because they need to train.
            The awful course design put in place from time to time doesn’t help, either.

            Of course, neither are currently among what I’d consider the best short stage races, in technical terms, precisely because of these two factors, the lack of a radical winning drive for most big names at the Dauphiné and the mediocre startlist which limits the TdS in the last decade or so (after a history of good quality).

  8. Top-notch riders going up a huge mountain today, and my US TV schedule shows … nothing! Has cycling completely abandoned its US audience?

    • Ken, Dauphine on NBC sports channel, or if you don’t have it, get the NBC Gold app. Have to pay a fee, but you get some other races, too. Suisse is available through the app.

  9. Watching the Dauphine and noticing that several riders have lost or nearly lost their numbers from their jerseys. They appear to be stick ons that don’t always stick that well. Noticed it in the TT as well. Is there an issue if you finish the stage without the numbers on your back?

  10. I’ve been a bit of an Aru pessimist as I’ve never been convinced he can live with the biggest GC names but yesterday was very impressive. I hope he can carry that threat into the Tour. It’s hard to extrapolate too much from the rest, although I’m a little disappointed Bardet seemed to struggle so much on a “home” climb he must have ascended many times. No sign his TT-ing is improving either.

    • Also, that descent was absolutely thrilling. The lack of helicopter shots enhanced the spectacle as we followed them close up virtually all the way down. Great TV.

    • We’ll see at the Tour, but nowadays the Dauphiné doesn’t say absolutely anything about a rider. In any sense.
      Once you could be pretty much sure that who was going especially well in June would fail in July, now anything might happen.
      Ideal for phantasising.

      • Yeah, it’s hard to draw too many conclusions although it does hint that Froome has reshaped his season for a slightly later peak and another Vuelta attempt. We’ll see.

        • I completely agree. It seems CF may be holding someting back so as to peak at the later portion of the TdF and carry that form into the Vuelta. He could thus achieve what Quintana stated he wanted to achieve but could not do. It would seem that if Sky don’t try to boss the peloton from the early stages in their ususal fashion, just keep in contention and spring the trap in the last week, we will know we are looking at the double attempt in progress. With his newfound descending chops we could be witnessing an attempt at the triple and Froome’s first attempt at the Giro since his ignominious expulsion.

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